In the last two years, we’ve helped design over 30 pitch decks. We’ve worked with type A founders, assertive founders, panicked founders and creative founders. Everyone has their own way of communicating and this is reflected in the way they formulate their pitch deck structure. In all these journeys, we’ve learned a series of lessons that we want to share with you today, based on real-life decks we've helped build.
1. Include the right type of content
Different pitch decks serve different purposes, depending on your investment goal and where you are in your business journey. While a classical pitch deck structure like the one presented by Sequoia in their article on “Writing a Business Plan”, each investment stage requires a different structure.
If you’re creating an early-stage pitch deck to get seed funding, make sure to include these key slides :
You have to be sure that your vision is specific to your niche and not too generic or broad, and that it’s a vision you’re striving to achieve (meaning you haven’t achieved it yet).
For example, “becoming the largest SaaS platform in the US” is too generic and broad. A better way of expressing it would be: “becoming the first choice partner for consumer goods businesses in assuring quick and easy deliveries through a unique platform.”
# The problem/pain
Describe the pain of the customer (or the customer’s customer), as well as the negative consequences and emotions it triggers. If you can outline how the customer addresses the issue today and what are some limitations of those current alternatives, that’s even better.
# The Product/Service
Describe how your solution works, its features, the architecture, any proprietary code developed, or any intellectual properties.
# Market Opportunity
Include market size estimates and declare your beachhead market. It would be great if you could also describe your ideal customer and show why this is a good time to act (explain why your solution was not possible a couple of years ago and why it cannot wait anymore, to create a sense of urgency).
Don’t stop at naming your competition, but describe how you intend to position yourself in relation to your competitors - what are your key differentiators and what makes your solution superior to all the other ones.
Especially in an early-stage startup, investors are betting more on the team than on the product, because you may pivot your product in the future but you still have the same people running the company. One common mistake we see here is that founders usually just put a picture of each team member, list their name and position and that’s it. Unless you are very well known, that doesn’t say anything to investors.
Add at least a short bio and professional background for each team member, demonstrating their expertise in their area. If you can squeeze any more relevant info into this section such as previous startup experience, experience working together, adding mentors and advisers, that’s even better.
It’s important to show numbers if you launched your product in any kind of way, especially in a series A deck. It’s not just about financials, this includes any other relevant metrics or forms of content: number of customers, client pipeline, a study case, client logos, testimonials, pilot projects, etc.
# Business Model
How are you going to make money? You can include key revenue streams, revenue models, and type of service/product packages you offer, lifetime value of clients.
# Fundraising goal
Include the fundraising amount you're looking for, use of proceeds and milestones/goals for the next 18 months.
We’ve detailed some of these slides in one of our previous articles here for first-time founders looking to raise seed capital.
If your pitch deck is intended for a series A, it’s probably going to be a bit longer than a seed deck (while a seed stage is going to be 10-15 slides, a series A can go for 15-20 slides max). While a seed-stage company could be looking for a product-market fit, with little financial information available, a series A company is required to make a much more concrete argument for their future success, which translates into more numbers, and more pages of graphs and tables of business statistics.
For a Series B or C deck, you have to showcase a company that is already growing, with a clear product/market fit and growing user base. A Series C deck can be longer, in order to better reflect your company’s growth and market segments. Make sure to include relevant information about your company’s journey up until this point (timeline and roadmap, validated business/pricing models, which market segments you explored and where do you see more potential).
With this type of deck, the goal is to paint a picture of exponential growth and demonstrate why this investment is crucial to support it. Because, at this point, without a series B or C investment you would probably still be growing, but at a steady pace. If you land the investment, you have to be able to show that you can really kick things up a notch, whether that means exploring new high potential segments, doubling down on proven methods/strategies, expanding to an international market or going for an acquisition strategy. Since these decks can be longer, it’s usually recommended to have a sort of executive summary slide or section (2-3 slides).
2. Tell a story
Your whole deck should be built on an overarching story instead of looking like a group of disconnected slides put together with what investors want to see/hear. Having a compelling story can really help you stand out from other startups. Consider the fact that investors see so many decks, that they often lose interest or patience, which is why a good story will make you memorable.
Every slide is a part of your story that you want to get across. If you took all your slides and just read the headings, you should be reading the story of your startup. If you took out just one slide or changed the order of slides, then your story should not make as much sense.
We talked about different techniques to tell stories in your presentation in the Power of Storytelling. The best one is to make it personal. When describing your problem, start by talking about a personal experience, a frustration you’ve experienced, something that kept you up at night and how you came to the realization that you weren’t the only one with this problem. An effective persuasion technique is to tell the story in such a way that investors can relate to the problem you are describing (they might have faced the same issue).
For example, in this deck describing a solution for fender benders and hit & runs, the founder started by talking about a personal experience that people can relate to it (it’s very frustrating to go to your parked car and see that it was damaged by another driver) before showing that it’s a larger problem.
3. Don’t include too much content
Pitch decks are somewhat limitative. While they are a marketing document, in essence, they are not a 400-pages industry report. Most founders tend to stuff their deck with every fact and figure they have read over the previous 12 months.
This is the first interaction with investors. You don’t want to scare them, tire them or bombard them with so much information that they are not able to describe what your startup does or who you are. The urge to share every piece of information with investors is in every founder, the key is controlling it. This is where we come in; through our experience, we help guide founders to create the right structure for their story and communicate it clearly and effectively.
The clearer you are in communicating startup’s vision and your business plans, the easier it will be for investors and VCs to focus their attention on your needs for a short amount of time.
Keep your slides clean and concise and treat them like billboards.
4. The importance of details
Think of how many decks have been presented to these investors. They already know what to expect, how they want to see it and they can identify a misplaced idea, number or phrase almost instantly.
Language-wise, make sure to avoid the following:
- Overselling your headlines
- Using obvious phrases and industry cliches (if they see ‘disruptive’ one more time…)
- Overly complicated phrases (the need to include more content can be reflected here)
- Technical jargon that investors may not be familiar with
Use your own language to tell your story.
Take your time designing the first two slides. Investors spend the most time on these. The title slide/presentation slide will be a key slide to make a first impression. We recommend that you focus on making the cover slide more visually appealing than the rest.
As for the second slide, the Problem slide, it’s usually where the presentation lingers most and where investors get the best sense of your business.
Keep your design consistent throughout the deck. Don’t alternate more than two or three fonts, don’t switch color pallets mid-deck, don’t combine illustrations and photos, don’t abuse overlays.
Stay away from red/green, brown/green, blue/black, blue/purple combinations. Instead, aim for a high contrast between background and text. Also, don’t use bright background colors that will strain your audience's eyes. These details can be very distracting for investors, robbing you of their attention.
Another key aspect is having a consistent design in terms of branding. Use the same colors, logo, fonts, type of imagery you normally use in your branding (on your website, collateral etc.). Pick a color scheme based on your logo.
Use high-quality visuals that fit the context. Use images that are relatable to your business and your target market, taking into consideration diversity as well (if you’re addressing the Hispanic market, images should have models from that demographic, not Caucasian).
Don’t use cheesy stock photos like the one below. If you're in need of quality graphics to build your presentation, we've made a list of visual resources website you can check out.
Most founders make the same mistakes. Common, easily-addressable mistakes, that are impossible to catch if you don’t have an objective second pair of eyes helping you to improve your pitch deck.
Hopefully, these lessons will prove useful the next time you're working on a pitch deck and if you have any questions, we're happy to help.
Are you ready to take your pitch deck to the next level?
Our team can help with everything from research, to creating your pitch deck flow, writing the content, designing and building your slides.